The 32-Minute “Run” That Decided the Conference Championship

confchamp

In sports, there are times when a team may go through a stretch in which it totally takes over the game, grabs the momentum, and seems to score in bunches either wiping out a deficit or increasing a lead.

In football, we may call it scoring “unanswered” points. In baseball, it is putting together some at bats and having a “rally.”

In basketball, it is called making a “run.”

In a sport that forces you to play both offense and defense in a matter of seconds, the ability to make a run when absolutely needed can do several things. One, it gives your team the confidence that scoring in spurts is possible at anytime, especially when the team can ride the momentum for a while.

Secondly, it always makes the other team feel like they have to “weather a storm” at any given time. It is always in the back of their minds.

But the best aspect of making a run is that it really takes a total team effort. Five players are on the court, but one team is making it happen.

Five moving parts. One entity. Synchronicity. Extreme effort appearing effortless.

“Runs” in a basketball game seem to come when the defense generates instant offense, when hustle breeds more energy, when enthusiasm becomes contagious, when potential gets realized, when all of the conversations in the huddles make sense, when players put team ahead of themselves, and when scoreboard means more than stat sheets.

“Runs” show both heart and mind, involve dedication to executing every fundamental, and giving your teammates better chances at helping the team.

A “run” shows the fans and your supporters that you fully embrace the desire to win.

Rarely in a championship game, does one witness a “32-minute run” – not when the two teams playing know each other so well from multiple competitions and are as highly ranked.

But that’s what happened tonight.

Well done, ladies and coaches.

Malcolm clapped a lot tonight. He sensed you were on a “run.”

Keep it going.

 

 

 

What Happens At Schools Should Teach Us All, Especially What Happened At Douglas High School

school-shooting-florida

The mass shooting at Columbine High School occurred in 1999. It was my second year of teaching. It changed the American high school landscape. Procedures. Drills. Even the construction of classroom doors altered to be more resistant to break-ins.

Furthermore, Columbine involved no gang members. It took place in an affluent area. The killers had planned to do something. There were warning signs.

The killers were white males. U.S. citizens.

Students whom I teach now were probably born after that event in Colorado, but mention it in conversation, and each one of them knows what happened that day.

One even stated that Columbine no longer ranks as one of the top ten massacres in terms of victim numbers. He was born in 2002.

Almost twenty years later we are in the same country, barely into the second month of the calendar year and we experience the 18th shooting on a school campus of 2018. That’s nearly one every 60 hours. It’s the fifth in which a casualty has occurred.

The killer in the Douglas High School massacre planned his actions. After initial reports of being linked to white supremacist group, any affiliation to any type of group or gang has not been proven.  He was a white male. A U.S. citizen.  There were warning signs.

And Douglas High School does not stand out as being a school in a poor district.

It seems that in a country whose president calls for a wall to keep out immigrants and “criminals,” claims that MS-13 is our biggest enemy, and that we need to focus on mental health when his administration has allowed for cuts to happen to the very agencies that can help with those issues, we would look at this recent shooting as yet another wake up call.

There is a problem with how we treat mental illness. There is a problem with how threadbare we staff schools to make sure we can ensure safety. There is a problem in how we perceive that sending thoughts and prayers can absolve us from action. There is  a problem in how we identify and ignore warning signs.

And there is a problem with how we as a nation can believe that the second amendment means that we can have access to semi-automatic assault weapons like we have access to cigarettes.

These problems are not mutually-exclusive. And if we build some sort of wall, then we will not solve these problems. Why? Because the problems that spawn horrific actions like the ones in Columbine and Douglas High have come from within our country.

It is often told that faith without works is dead.

Thoughts and prayers without action to help make sure things like this don’t happen again is an open invitation that it will in fact happen again.

We need to really look in the mirror.

Honestly.

 

The Privatization of North Carolina’s Public Schools – A Who’s Who

Remember Michelle Rhee’s visit to North Carolina last year for a “closed-door” meeting (February 7th  ,2017) with lawmakers brokered by an educational lobbying body of business leaders called BEST NC (coupled with the NC GOP’s invitation to Betsy DeVos who had just been confirmed as Trump’s secretary of education)?

It was another ominous omen of what has been and will continue to be attempted in North Carolina – the further privatization of public education in North Carolina.

This meeting with Rhee that was passed off as a session with leaders where candid questions could be asked and ideas exchanged on how to improve public education seemed to be void of the very people who know education the best – public school educators. The media did have a brief chance to meet and greet with Ms. Rhee and George Parker in a manicured and measured way, but what happened behind closed doors with people who make decisions on how to spend taxpayer money and fund public schools along with controversial educational reformers remains a mystery.

In fact, it seemed more like a special session of the NC General Assembly who used such “secret sessions” to spawn actions such as HB2, SB4, and HB17 (the latter two soon after Mark Johnson was elected as NC State Superintendent).

Despite what they claim, the intentions of BEST NC and other “reformers” to improve public education seems to have a different meaning to them than it does to those who are educators in our public schools.

That’s because there exist too many relationships between business leaders, lobbying groups, wealthy benefactors, politicians, and educational reformers to be coincidental. In fact, many in the “reform” movement that have started to dismantle the public school system are strategically linked to each other both outside of the state and inside.

Look at the graphic below:

graph1

That is a diagram of the relationships between entities that many public school advocates deem as detrimental to our public school system. It’s very busy and probably confusing. It’s supposed to be.

Consider the following national entities:

  • Teach For America
  • Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Walton Family Foundation
  • Eli Broad Foundation
  • KIPP Charter Schools
  • Democrats For Educational Reform
  • Educational Reform Now
  • StudentsFirst
  • America Succeeds
  • 50CAN
  • American Legislative Exchange Council
  • National Heritage Academies
  • Charter School USA
  • Team CFA
  • American Federation for Children

They are all linked. And the only teachers who seem to have any sustained dialogue with any of these is the Hope Street Group – and that dialogue seems mostly to have been with BEST NC (but not of late).

Somehow, someway all of the bulleted entities above have been at play in North Carolina even before that meeting with Michelle Rhee and BEST NC which took place literally days after Betsy DeVos was confirmed as secretary of education thanks to the first ever tie-breaking vote by a vice-president for a cabinet position.

They continue to be at play, more so now than ever before. And other are joining in thus making this document a work in progress.

If you are willing, simply follow the explanation below because what seems to be a simple meeting that took place in February of 2017 was just another step in the GOP-led NC General Assembly to dismantle public education and finance the privatization of schooling.

First, consider the national scene.

graph11

In 2014 a teacher/researcher named Mercedes Schneider published an informative book called A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education. What Schneider did was literally research and report on all of the bodies of influence that were applying forces on the landscape of public education for the benefit of political and capitalistic gain.

The fact that she is a teacher, product of public schools from southern Louisiana, a trained researcher, a survivor of Katrina, and a residential expert of the charter takeover in New Orleans, she has a unique perspective and an educated point of view.

Chapter 17 of the book is dedicated to the Democrats For Educational Reform and the Educational Reform Now groups (DFER and ERN).

DFER supports vouchers, union busting and other reform measures that are common in other reform circles, but they are (to summarize Schneider) not “non-profit.” What makes them powerful is that they have the word “Democrat” in their name and it allows them to literally “train” democrats into accepting and advancing a protocol that actually is more conservative in nature – initiatives that align with school choice and charter movements. Schneider talks about in pages 276-279 how the DFER even promoted “mayoral control and charter favoritism.”

It may seem a little bit like conspiracy theory, but it does make sense. Why? Because DFER is non-profit and has the word “Democrat” in it and therefore does not get the big time donations from conservative donators.

Or do they?

DFER is run mostly by hedge-fund managers. One of them is Whitney Tilson, who happens to be a Teach For America alumnus and a vice-chair of New York’s KIPP charters. He also sits on the board of DFER. That alone links DFER, KIPP, and TFA (p.278).

At least in 2013, DFER had an Executive Director named Joe Williams. He just happened to “also head another reform group, this one actually is classed as a ‘nonprofit,’ and it doesn’t have the D-word in its title.”  Education Reform Now (ERN) is a “democratic” body understood to be a “sister entity” to DFER (p.279).

By 2010, ERN counted the Broad Foundation and the Walton Foundation as donors. “ERN enables hedge-fund managers to quietly donate to Democrats advancing the privatization agenda…. Looks like the big Republican money is available to DFER, after all – through its ERN back door” (p.279).

More from Schneider:

  • Remember that Whitney Tilson is also a founding member of Teach For America along with Wendy Kopp. Kopp was the mentor of Michelle Rhee. Their ventures literally share the same circulatory system.
  • Tilson sits on the KIPP board and sits on the DFER board.
  • Kopp sits on the Broad Foundation Board which feeds money to ERN who in turn feeds DFER. Kopp is also married to Richard Barth, the CEO of KIPP Foundation.
  • DFER through ERN conducts business with StudentsFirst, founded by Michelle Rhee.
  • Tilson, Kopp, and Rhee are TFA alums.

BEST NC, based in Raleigh and architects of the recent controversial principal play program in the state, is affiliated with an outfit named America Succeeds that feeds and supports various “reform” groups within certain states that bring together powerful business leaders to push “educational reform.” Look at the following article: – http://www.prwatch.org/news/2016/03/13065/how-dfer-leaders-channel-out-state-dark-money-colorado-and-beyond. The title alone alludes to the ability for DFER to channel “dark” money to out of state entities that promote anti-union, pro-charter, voucher supporting measures. It shows something interesting.

  • America Succeeds’s address in Colorado is 1390 Lawrence Street in Denver.
  • DFER’s Colorado office is located on 1390 Lawrence Street in Denver.
  • KIPP’s Denver charter schools are headquartered in Denver. At 1390 Lawrence Street.

Seems that TFA, StudentsFirst, DFER, ERN, KIPP are about as incestuously linked as a Greek god family tree and it is feeding support to groups like BEST NC who just happens to be the Carolina affiliate of America Succeeds.

Think about it. North Carolina is an ideal target. Why? Because of the following conditions:

  • Right-to-work state.
  • Elimination of due-process rights.
  • Removal of caps for number of charter schools which are not regulated.
  • GOP controlled state assembly.
  • Opportunity Grants increasing.
  • Push for merit pay.
  • The new state superintendent is a TFA alumnus – Mark Johnson.

Part of that national scene includes three charter school chains.

National Heritage Academies is based in Michigan in the same state where Betsy DeVos began her quest to privatize public education. They’ve enabled each other. National Heritage Academies has 11 schools in North Carolina. One of them is Greensboro Academy. On the board of that school is Alan Harkes who sits on the Charter School Advisory Board of North Carolina. That’s convenient.

Betsy DeVos is also the founder of a school choice advocacy group in Washington D.C. called the American Federation For Children. On February 15th, 2018 Darrell Allison who was for years the head of the Parents For Educational Freedom in North Carolina, was chosen to assume a leadership position with AFC.

Team CFA is based in Oregon. John Bryan, the founder of the Team CFA, has been donating money left and right to specific politicians and PAC’s here in North Carolina to extend the charter industry including Lt. Gov. Dan Forest (through a PAC). He spear-headed an attempt to win the contract of the ISD school in Robeson that was recently given a green light with Dr. Eric Hall as the superintendent. He would report straight to Mark Johnson under provisions of HB4. (http://amp.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article177836091.html).

Charter Schools USA is based in Ft. Lauderdale. It is run by Jonathan Hage whose political contribution to politicians in North Carolina are rather numerous.

Now consider North Carolina.

graph3

Those numbers correspond to:

  1. North Carolina General Assembly
  2. Charter School Advisory Board and State Board of Education
  3. Civitas Institute
  4. John Locke Foundation
  5. BEST NC
  6. SAS
  7. State Supt. Mark Johnson
  8. Gov. Dan Forest
  9. Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina
  10. Carolina CAN
  11. Jason Saine
  12. Jerry Tillman
  13. Innovative School District
  14. Bill Rabon
  15. Trinity Christian School
  16. David Curtis
  17. Hope Street Group

Go back to Charter Schools USA.

Below is a screen shot from followthemoney.org which tracks campaign contributions to political candidates (https://www.followthemoney.org/entity-details?eid=14298646). Here is a list of candidates who have received money from Hage in NC.

graph5

  • There’s Jerry Tillman, the former public school administrator who is a champion for opaque charter school regulation. He’s #12 on the state map.
  • And there’s Jason Saine who loves charters as well. He’s #11 on the state map.
  • There’s David Curtis, who loves charters as well. He’s #16 on the state map.
  • There’s Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who sits on the state school board and lambasted DPI under Dr. June Atkinson for its report on charter schools that said they were disproportionally representing populations. He’s #8 on the state map. It is also worth noting that Forest is also on the state board of education and is ramping up for a run at the governor’s mansion in 2020.
  • There’s Bill Rabon, who stalled the HB13 bill in the Senate. That’s the bill that would have been a clean fix of the class size mandate that was replaced with a poison pill called HB90. He’s #14 on the state map.

Furthermore, Jason Saine has just been named the new National Chairman of ALEC and is helping to open yet another charter school called West Lake Preparatory school that is affiliated with Charter Schools USAhttps://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/12/08/open-letter-to-rep-jason-saine-youre-a-state-representative-fight-for-all-public-schools-not-a-new-charter-school/.

Brenda Berg who is the CEO of BEST NC has increasingly brokered working relationships with many entities that have targeted public schools – John Locke Foundation being one.

BEST NC’s VP is Julie Kowal, who at one time was the Executive Director of CarolinaCan, which is the NC chapter of an outfit called 50CAN, a national “advocacy group” that just a few years ago merged with another entity: StudentsFirst: https://studentsfirst.org/pages/50can-and-studentsfirst-merge-strengthen-support-local-education-leaders-across-country. StudentsFirst was started by Michelle Rhee.

Now, add to that the fact that BEST NC has had some workshops/meetings with people from the The Hope Street Group which is a group of teacher leaders who receive a stipend in exchange for gathering and communicating educational concerns with public school teachers. Hope Street Group receives funding from the Gates Foundation. Hope Street Group and other teachers were not in the meeting that Michelle Rhee attended with lawmakers that was set up by BEST NC. In fact, there has been no evidence that BEST NC had even worked with Hope Street Group in any endeavor of late meaning that BEST NC really does not reach out to any teacher-affiliated groups.

Additionally, Mark Johnson was granted a massive amount of power over public education through House Bill 17 and Senate Bill 4 (HB17 &SB4), power over charter schools, and the control of the Innovative School District and has retained the services of ex-Pat McCrory aids who possibly were enabled by other McCrory cronies, such as Art Pope who is linked to the American Legislative Exchange Council, otherwise known as ALEC. Art Pope is also part of the aforementioned John Locke Foundation.

The North Carolina General Assembly has backed Johnson with money and resources to fight the state board of education in a rather long-timed lawsuit thus showing he NCGA’s loyalty to Johnson and not the state board. Furthermore, it has reduced DPI’s budget significantly and allowed Johnson to hire people loyal to him including a former official with the Mississippi Charter Schools (#14 on national map) as a high ranking person in DPI.

And Mark Johnson is an admirer of Betsy DeVos. When interviewed by the Charlotte Observer for a Jan. 27th, 2017 feature Johnson expressed his support for the neophyte DeVos.

When asked about her, Johnson didn’t hesitate: “I support her.”

It’s not ironic that Betsy DeVos is also associated with ALEC. From sourcewatch.com it is learned that DeVos has “bankrolled the 501 (c) (4) group the American Federation for Children, the 501 (c) (3) group Alliance for School Choice and by having these groups participate in and fund the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).”

And remember that Darrell Allison who served as president of the Parents For Educational Freedom in North Carolina for the past few years will now be a director in DeVos’s American Federation for Children. Allison still plans on being based in North Carolina.

Oh, Allison is also on the UNC Board of Governors. He will remain in that capacity. So a man who has influence over the state’s university system is employed by national school choice advocacy group founded by the current secretary of education that feeds funds to ALEC, an organization that just named a NC lawmaker (Jason Saine) as its national chairman.

All of these connections seem more than coincidence and this perfect storm of timing, state politics, gerrymandering, and people in power can’t just be by chance. Could it?

So where are the teachers in this dialogue? The schools of education in one of the best college systems in the nation and from some of the highest ranking private schools in the country?

Well many teachers have been represented by groups like NCAE (which is an association and not a union). Multiple times the NC General Assembly has tried to weaken any group like NCAE through stopping automatic dues payments and other things such as what the Civitas Institute tried to do here – luring teachers in NCAE to “buy” their membership back.

Remember this?

graph6

That website was established by the Civitas Institute, which was founded by Art Pope. It showed NCAE members how to withdraw their membership in NCAE and make $450 because that is what they would not be spending in dues.

Now look at that first map again:

graph1

Hopefully, it makes a little more sense.

The NC GOP has been very instrumental in the following actions:

  • Removal of due-process rights
  • Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed
  • Standard 6
  • “Average” Raises
  • Less Money Spent per Pupil
  • Remove Caps on Class Sizes
  • Jeb Bush School Grading System
  • Cutting Teacher Assistants
  • Opportunity Grants
  • Virtual Schools
  • Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges
  • Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program and reinvention in a different entity.

Also look at this timeline:

  • Art Pope became McCrory’s budget director – 2013
  • Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Eliminated – 2013
  • 50Can created CarolinaCan – 2013
  • School Performance Grades – 2013
  • Due-process rights taken from new teachers – started in 2013
  • Charter school cap in NC lifted – 2014, but proposed in 2013.
  • Opportunity Grants (vouchers) – 2014

Now consider SAS, a software company whose president, James Goodnight, is married to one of the founders and current Board Member of BEST NC, Anne Goodnight. Mrs. Goodnight was also one of the founders of Cary Academy, a rather prestigious private school in the Triangle area.

In a data-driven, educational-reform era that seems to crunch and use data to position evidence that supports their claims, it would make sense to align with SAS, an “American multinational developer of analytics software based in Cary, North Carolina. SAS develops and markets a suite of analytics software, which helps access, manage, analyze and report on data to aid in decision-making” (Wikipedia).

SAS controls the EVAAS software system. It is used by the state to measure teacher effectiveness. It uses rather surreptitious methods and secret algorithms to calculate its data – https://caffeinatedrage.com/2017/11/26/why-teachers-should-be-wary-of-evaas-and-sas/.

Other lawmakers aligned with the privatizing movement here in North Carolina include Sen. Chad Barefoot who heads the powerful NC Senate Committee for Education. It is rumored that he is being considered as a possible head of the NC community college system in the next few years.

What has happened is that much of what should be “public” in the North Carolina school system is now being guided by non-public entities.

And we in NC get this:

graph4

Simply put, the privatization of the public school system.

Remember Ladies, You’re The Titans

I imagine most of you have seen the movie Remember the Titans about a public school in Virginia the 1970’s being desegregated and how its football team became a vehicle for positive change.

I watch it every chance I get. There’s a hopeless romantic still inside of me that likes a feel-good movie that actually is based on real events. That and my aunt who is an actress is in it.

It’s rather neat to see her on screen and say, “Hey, I know her.”

titans

We play a clip from the movie before football games that has Denzel Washington’s voice giving a pep talk to his players.

It sounds cliche’, I know. But if you remember, that was an actual team from an actual small town in the south and the local public school was a fundamental part of those kinds of small towns like West is to Clemmons.

West Forsyth is one of those few remaining schools in our area that can be claimed by a small town. It has been that way for three generations. All of 27012 feeds into West along with other surrounding areas of course.

So what happens at West happens to the town. And we are the Titans.

“Family” is a word that you have been using to describe yourselves. It’s on social media and Twitter. It’s also why there is only one name on the back of each jersey to remind you that you are a team, a “family.”

You ladies are a family. Anyone who watches you play sees how you pick each other up, celebrate each other, and refuse to let setbacks keep you from achieving. And you instinctively understand that the power of the team as a whole is more than the sum of the individual parts put together.

Any competitor is disappointed in a loss or less-than-stellar performance. But since March of last year, you have been preparing for this part of the schedule, the season after the season. The real season.

A house is where you keep your belongings. A home is where your family is. Sometimes it is a physical place, sometimes it is metaphorical, but it is always an awareness that you carry with you and keep open for those you care about.

You ladies are family. Have been for a while. Those who cheer for you have seen it. Those you have played against more than know it.

So no matter that color of jersey you wear, you are the “home” team.

There will be a lot of people from your hometown and school to see you play on your “home” court. There will be parents, friends, coaches, students, teachers, and others who may have never played a basketball game in their lives there to watch you play, hopefully for many more games.

And there will be many more following from their homes via social media, texts, phone calls, internet, etc., but expect a crowd at your “home court,” whether it is Simpson Gym or some other hardwood floor.

Baskets are still 10 feet high. Jump stops still will work. Driving to the basket still makes others play defense.

There is no need to tell you that every other team will “remember the Titans.” They’ll know. You will leave it all on the court tonight, Friday, and for the other games.

Just remember that you are the Titans and there will be a very large family gathering when you play.

On our “home court.”

Makes you wonder if we could get a large school flag to wave inside the gym.

Play to win. There is no room to play to not lose.

And as always, it is a joy to be a part of West.

“As Clear As The Setting Sun” – Sen. Phil Berger Should Not Be Re-elected

hamlet skull

To be or not to be: that is the question.
Whether to suffer under Berger more,
Or elect someone who works for us all
And not swim against a sea of troubles.

If Shakespeare has taught us anything about human nature and our lives (actually he has taught us much), then we would certainly know that the state of the king’s palace usually dictates the state of the kingdom. Just review perhaps his most famous play, Hamlet, where the greed of one man for power (Claudius) causes a chain of events that literally bring down a kingdom, takes innocent lives, and even makes the dead come back.

Consequently, the state of the General Assembly and the actions of its players has direct effects on the state of North Carolina as a whole. But one of these players has had the leading role for a while in Raleigh, Sen. Phil Berger.

In this drama of an election year, it is worth beseeching our fellow North Carolinians who live in Rockingham and Guilford counties who also have Sen. Phil Berger as their state senator to seriously contemplate his actions as a legislator and the effects they have had on the rest of the state. Why? Because…

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” (Marcellus, I,iv).

Something is rotten in the state of North Carolina. The list of offending actions causing this state of decay is long and well-documented. And Sen. Berger has been the chief architect in most all of them.

There was the religious freedom bill. There was the Voter ID law. There was HB2. There were the countless attacks on public education. There was the tax “reform” that has placed more burden on the middle class of the state. There was the marriage amendment. There was a reduction of benefits for the unemployed. There was the refusal of Medicaid expansion.

All of it has been poison poured into the ears of North Carolinians. It adds to the madness of North Carolina.

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t” (Polonius, II,ii). 

While many of our constituents may debate the merits of who should go into what bathroom or who should be able to marry whom, there have been deliberate, calculated attempts at consolidating power on a state level by this man at the expense of others. Sen. Berger has thrown out so many red herrings to take attention away from what has really happened in legislative sessions that many are convinced it is madness to go against his policies.

But there is a method to it. The thought that some would want grown men to go into girls’ locker rooms at a public school is madness. But that is the deception – a method to extend power over local municipalities about how people can sue in state courts or how local municipalities can contract work.

“One may smile, and smile, and be a villain” (Hamlet, I, v). 

Shakespeare was often very wary of how villains presented themselves. Iago was “two-faced” showing a public side to hide private motives. Edmund people-pleased in order to destroy them. Richard III smiled constantly in the very faces of people he eliminated.

The public facade can often be a mask for other motives. Rather than focus on the smiling visage of a politician, listen to his words, read his explanations, and then compare them to his actions. And why? Because…

“The Devil hath power
To assume a pleasing shape” (Hamlet, II,ii).

No, Sen. Berger is not the Devil. But I do think he will have a lot to answer for when he greets his maker as he is asked what he did for those who needed the most help. So, I beseech you to…

“Listen to many, speak to a few” (Polonius, I,iii). 

Yes, he is an incumbent for your district. He supposedly represents your ideals. But consider that his actions have had deleterious effects on all North Carolinians. In his efforts at gerrymandering districts, he has shown us all his conscious efforts at squashing voices who disagree with him.

Ask any public school teacher outside of your district and nine times out of ten, that teacher will be able to directly name Sen. Berger as an adversarial presence in public education.

Ask any person in the LBGT community who has faced discrimination.

Ask any parent who needs Medicaid to help with healthcare coverage for his/her child.

Ask any of the almost one in four kids in our state who live in poverty.

Ask any small municipality (even Hamlet, NC) about having Raleigh overrule their own local ordinances.

 “This above all: to thine own self be true” (Polonius, I,iii).  

The operative words here are “true” and “truth”. Don’t allow political double-speak and platitudes to cover up what is the truth. And the truth is what affects lives. Sen. Berger has affected a lot of lives – negatively.

“To be, or not to be: that is the question” (Hamlet, III,i).

Maybe the question should be, “To vote, or not to vote.” The answer is yes, you should. But please consider who you vote for, because if life is a stage, then the rest of the state and even the country is watching the play.

Don’t let this end tragically. Don’t let us be haunted by ghosts of actions past. We can have a new script.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When a “Zero” Becomes a “50” And Other Miracles in Educational Reform

So, are you a glass is half- empty person or a glass is half-full person? It’s a generic question. I know.

Preferably, I would like to be around a water source and not worry if I had enough to fill a glass and just drink my fill.

But there is another way to never have to worry about if a glass is half-full or half-empty. Just pour what you have into a smaller glass and change the paradigm.

That’s exactly what has happened with many school districts in their decisions to make a “50” the lowest possible grade a student could receive for a quarter grade on a report card.

gradebook

Let me explain. In a four quarter system for a yearlong A/B class like an AP course, a student could do absolutely no homework, complete zero papers, and refuse to answer any questions on any assessment and get a true zero percent for a quarter score while that student was present for class on almost all possible days.

I would still have to give that student a “50” for the quarter. That’s ten points below a passing grade for doing nothing.

I could have a student who is busting his/her butt to complete work, but is not mastering the concepts as quickly as others. I offer tutoring, extra credit, and differentiate instruction, but that student is still struggling. That student gets a 65 for the quarter.

I would have to say that there is more than a fifteen point differential in the performance of the two students.

It is hard to fathom, but there are students who literally can do nothing for over half the year (or semester for a block class) and still salvage a passing grade in a class where other students have literally sweated and toiled just to pass. They simply pass two quarters and the state exam, an exam that is not made by the teacher but a third party and graded by a third party who then can designate a conversion formula to alter the outcome.

I don’t like it.

Proponents of this policy for a “50” being the lowest possible quarter grade argue that it allows a student to not be placed in a hole of academic failure for a bad quarter. It gives them a chance to work out of the abyss of failure.

However, when you place a 10 point letter grade system for all high schools in North Carolina where a “60” is a “D”, it means that of the 41 of the possible 51 quarter “averages” one could possibly obtain (60, 61, 62, … to a 100) are passing grades. Only 10 (50, 51 … to 59) are failing. I am not sure that this is saving grades for students or actually enabling many of them to play the system.

Think of it this way. I am getting older. My metabolism is not what it used to be. My body does not have that teenage ability to heal quickly and take the demands of rigorous sports activity. Consequently, I weigh more than I did years ago.

What if all of a sudden, the state’s health department changed the guidelines by which obesity is defined? All of a sudden, in the eyes of the medical community, I am not as overweight as I was in previous days because the labeling has changed; the measurements have changes.

Does that make me healthier all of a sudden? No. My body is still my body. You can’t make it healthier by changing the criteria.

But we can make students more successful academically using the same logic? I don’t think so. What if we extended this policy of inflation for other areas of students’ lives? It would be hard to do that in this economy. Many of the students in my classes today have jobs. If they decided not to show up for work without an excusable reason, then they will get fired. If they drive a car and they (or their families) miss a car payment, then they will lose the car.

I guess my point is that we are not doing students a great favor by artificially raising a bad grade due to lack of performance and work. When doing no work at all can still get you half of the points available in a quarter grade, students might be getting a message that that cushion will exist for them at all times.

It won’t.

A good teacher will work with a student, if the student is willing to work. There is tutoring. There is spending extra time looking over a paper or problem. There is conferencing. There are lots of available options to help a student raise a grade that involves still learning. The grade is authentically earned.

In that respect, students learn to advocate for themselves. And that will serve them wonderfully throughout all of their lives.

When a North Carolina Lawmaker Says, “Well, We Are Spending More on Education Than Ever Before,” Then Consider This

Say in 2008, a school district had 1000 students in its school system and spent 10 million dollars in its budget to educate them. That’s a 10,000 per pupil expenditure. Now in 2017, that same district has 1500 students and the school system is spending 11.5 million to educate them. That district is spending more total dollars now than in 2008 on education, but the per-pupil expenditure has gone down –  significantly to over 2300 dollars per student or 23 percent.

What many in Raleigh want to pat themselves on the backs about is that we as a state are spending more on education than ever before. And that’s true. Just listen for the many examples to come from legislators looking to get reelected this year to the NC General Assembly.

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But when the average spent per pupil does not increase with the rise in the cost of resources and upkeep and neglects to put into consideration that the population of North Carolina has exploded in the last couple of decades, then that political “victory” becomes empty.

What many in Raleigh may also want to pat themselves on the back about is how much of the state budget is spent on public education. It’s about 56% now.

But we are supposed to. It’s in our constitution.

The Public School Forum of North Carolina’s publication the 2014 Local School Finance Studyprovides a great history of the state’s practice in funding public schooling which is rooted in the proclamation that all children in the state ages 6-21 are guaranteed a good public education. The publication stated:

North Carolina’s first state constitution in 1776 included an education provision that stated, “A School or Schools shall be established by the Legislature for the convenient Instruction of Youth.” The legislature provided no financial support for schools.

A century later, the constitution adopted after the Civil War required the state to provide funding for all children ages 6-21 to attend school tuition-free. In 1901, the General Assembly appropriated $100,000 for public schools, marking the first time there was a direct appropriation of tax revenue for public schools. Today, the constitution mandates that the state provide a “general and uniform system of free public schools” and that the state legislature may assign counties “such responsibility for the financial support of the free public schools as it may deem appropriate.” N.C. Const. art. IX, § 2 (see sidebar, “Sources of Local School Finance Law: The North Carolina State Constitution”).

Apart from the constitutional provisions, a major change in the school funding structure occurred during the Great Depression. Under the School Machinery Act (enacted in 1931 and amended in 1933), the state assumed responsibility for all current expenses necessary to maintain a minimum eight-month school term and an educational program of basic content and quality (instructional and program expenses). In exchange for the state’s expanded role, local governments assumed responsibility for school construction and maintenance (capital expenses). The School Machinery Act established counties as the basic unit for operating public schools, which is maintained today with large county-wide school systems, except in the 11 counties that also have city school systems.

What this means is that the state has the responsibility for the financing of basic functions for public education like salaries for personnel, services for special-needs students, technology, professional development, even textbooks. To say that the state spends around 56% of its budget on public education and then consider that to be the end-all-and-be-all to the argument is really ignoring the reasons why such a dynamic exists.

In the past before the GOP’s current majority in the NC General Assembly began, the state spent an even higher percentage on public education because THAT IS WHAT THE STATE CONSTITUTION DECLARED. Those percentages of spending are not a badge of honor that this General Assembly gets to wear; it was earned many decades ago. The fact that the percentage is getting lower actually is not a positive sign for this administration. It is a reflection that the NCGA’s level of commitment to public education is wavering.

Lest we forget, some of the very people who are bragging about how well they have treated public education in this state have really in fact weakened it – deliberately. How? Here is a sampling:

  • The financing of failed charter schools that have little or no oversight.
  • The funding of vouchers (Opportunity Grants) that effectively remove money for public education and reallocate it to private schools – actually over 93% of them go to religious schools.
  • The underfunding of our public university system, which forces increases in tuition, while giving tax breaks to companies who benefit from our educated workforce.
  • The dismantling of the Teaching Fellows Program that recruited our state’s brightest to become the teachers of our next generation.
  • The removal of the cap for class size for traditional schools and claiming it will not impede student learning. And now they want to make a class cap size for k-3, but are not willing to help finance the enormous amount of building that would have to occur to facilitate the massive number of new classes.
  • The removal of graduate pay salary increases for those new teachers who have a Master’s degree or higher.
  • The administration of too many tests (EOCTs, MSLs, CCs, NC Finals, etc.), many of which are scored well after grades are due.
  • The constant change in curriculum standards (Standard Course of Study, Common Core, etc.).
  • The propping of the most enabled yet invisible state superintendent of public instruction.

The number of LEA’s embroiled in a fight to fund its public schools is rather large– literally. Many parents and advocates are even asking to pay more taxes if they knew it would go to the schools (Wake County).

If North Carolina’s leaders were serious about helping our public schools instead of praising themselves and trying to invent ways to create obstacles to validate “reform” then there would be no need for this fight.

And they sure as hell wouldn’t use our students as political pawns.

West Forsyth WBB Are CPC Champs and a #1 Seed – When You Play With Heart

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The Titan Women’s Basketball Team will always hold a special place in the heart of Malcolm.

Basketball is his favorite sport and he watches the games with an attentiveness that he does not give any other event.

And those ladies who play for the high school in Clemmons, NC have treated him with nothing but class. Before games, two of the players always make it a ritual to come and “fist-bump” Malcolm as a way of “preparing” for battle. Malcolm always gives them a “Boom” right back which if you know Malcolm, he does not do that with many people.

It is commonly known with those familiar with Down Syndrome that kids like Malcolm are very visual in their learning. Consequently, he associates different places with different events or activities.

He knows the road to West Forsyth. It’s another home to him. He knows his way around and a lot of people recognize who he is which is very comforting.

But there are times when we go to away games and Malcolm does not recognize the place. It can set him ill at ease. That’s when I take him inside to see who is playing because he can recognize the uniforms and the players. And for some of those players who go out of their way to acknowledge him, he recognizes their faces and all is well.

Malcolm may not show it, but he does know if West wins. He picks up on a vibe, body language, and atmosphere. But then again, he always thinks of these ladies as winners.

Kid has a big heart.

But tonight, those ladies did not just win the conference championship, they played with heart from beginning to end. They cheered for each other, communicated, worked hard for and with teammates, and won.

Remember that bit about kids with Down Syndrome needing to visualize and see things so they can learn?

Couldn’t have picked a better place tonight for Malcolm to see what happens when a team plays with heart.

Big heart.

Always looking forward to the next game.

 

“Snowbirding” on the Court of the Class Size Fix

When a player on a basketball court refuses to go and play defense and only wants easy passes for wide open shots to pad their stat sheet, that player is “snowbirding.”

Rather than doing the heavy lifting, playing hard to make a stop and secure the rebound, this player raises his hands, yells for the long pass, and celebrates making an uncontested shot (if he can actually shoot the ball) while never doing any of the very work that made the shot possible.

Metaphorically speaking, when it comes to the supposed victory in the “fix” to the unfunded class size mandate, State Superintendent Mark Johnson had the audacity to take credit for “work” done to help put off the class size mandate for a while longer with a bill laced with other harmful legislation concerning the environment and election boards for the coming elections.

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He used that possessive plural personal pronoun called “our.” He tweeted,

Happy to report that our work to be a voice for parents, students and educators has paid off. Students will benefit from smaller class sizes, pre-K programs, and our school districts will benefit from dedicated enhancement teacher funding and a longer implementation.

Forgive me if I am mistaken in any way, but when was Mark Johnson a voice for parents, students, and educators for this class size fix? While many parents, teachers, and advocates were doing all of the hard work in rallying, speaking, galvanizing, canvasing, and talking to politicians, Mark Johnson was a no-show, a no-voice, but a smile on a television camera that he chose not to share with anyone who would challenge his actions (that’s a reference to declining an invitation to debate Mark Jewell of NCAE in television about comments he himself made).

He was “snowbirding,” waiting for the issue to be resolved, screaming for the microphone, and gladly taking credit for something that he had no part in.

That video referenced in the tweet is worth the watch if just to see someone whose very job is to advocate for public schools but rather takes credit for something that so many others worked for despite his inactivity.

If anyone needed any more evidence that our state superintendent is nothing more than a puppet for the NC General Assembly powers who put together the poison-laced class-size fix called HB90, then nothing will convince you.

Players who “snowbird” are not really team players.

In fact, they almost work for the other side.

HB90 Shows That NC’s Public School Children Are Political Pawns

News today that a “fix” for the class size mandate was “agreed” upon by both chambers of the North Carolina General Assembly should seem like a welcome outcome.

On the surface, it is a victory for parents, advocates, and schools in that the mandate will be pushed back for a while and some extra funding for “specials” teachers is being given.

But during that press-conference in which Sen. Chad Barefoot announced with carefully prepared and partisan comments the “fix,” he negated to tell North Carolinians what else was attached to the bill that NC democrats were never privy to (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article199207129.html).

That link not only gives you a video of Barefoot’s press conference; it also links to Lynn Bonner’s report that further explores HB90’s reach.

Long-sought help for schools struggling to lower class sizes is now tied up with a controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline fund and a power struggle over control of elections boards.

A bill proposed Thursday would take $58 million that energy companies building a pipeline through Eastern North Carolina are expected to give state government as part of a deal Gov. Roy Cooper negotiated, and distribute it to school districts in eight counties the pipeline would run through. Cooper calls it a mitigation fund to offset environmental effects of the pipeline, but Republicans repeatedly called it a “slush fund.”

House Bill 90 also makes changes to the state elections board. The changes are the response to Republicans’ recent loss in the state Supreme Court in a ruling that said their earlier attempt to reconstitute the board was unconstitutional. In the latest iteration, the elections board would have nine members, including one member not affiliated with a political party.

But to Barefoot and other GOP members of the NCGA, the day was really about bragging about a class-size fix.

Throughout most of the last calendar year people like Barefoot, Berger, and Moore have been yelling that the class size mandate has been funded in the past, yet there was absolutely no proof of that. One only has to read the work of Kris Nordstrom and see that those claims were not only baseless, but now are revealed to be the very smokescreen for today’s announcement.

What happened today was that the GOP education reformers took credit for a solution to a problem that they purposefully used to position themselves to pass partisan legislature to help them remain in power despite the gerrymandering and doublespeak.

And yes, it is politics. But public school kids were the pawns. They made it look like they were listening to the public, but it seems more than orchestrated.

Think of Craig Horn’s statements earlier in the year that a “fix” was coming only to be rebuffed by Berger. That is until more came out about the ruling of the state supreme court on the state elections board. They needed that time to figure out how to allow a fix that they have been holding in their back pocket to a problem they originally created could be used to offset their political loss.

And again, the kids were the pawns.

They have been all along.

Gov. Cooper’s office did respond with a press release and it is correct.

cooper

But the statements that came to mind were from Mark Johnson’s “less than stellar” op-ed from yesterday’s News & Observer (http://amp.newsobserver.com/opinion/op-ed/article198795214.html?__twitter_impression=true).

And some of those tasked with making schools better are more focused on preserving tired partisan wedges….

Nothing was more partisan than what the people who empower and enable Johnson  (who never has really said anything about the class size mandate) did today.

And today also shows us why we need to vote so many people out of office come November.